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What NEAR's Focus on Usability Means for the Web3 Ecosystem
10/10/2022
What NEAR's Focus on Usability Means for the Web3 Ecosystem

The history of web3 is partly a history of overcoming key hurdles on the path to mass adoption. First, bitcoin overcame the initial hurdle of how to create a decentralized ledger technology itself. Later Ethereum showed a way of expanding blockchain technology to facilitate a near infinite functionality with smart contracts. Today, the primary hurdle has been the scalability problem, yet with the recent Merge and a host of highly scalable platforms now available, this major hurdle is arguably in the rearview mirror.

With the web3 ecosystem closer to mass adoption than ever before, NEAR protocol has been addressing one fo the next big hurdles for the industry: usability.

Co-founder of the protocol, Alexander Skidanov, has compared the current state of blockchain to a stadium in the desert, writing that, "A scalable blockchain in the modern world is like a stadium in the middle of a desert: it has a lot of seats, but nobody to sit on them". For him, creating a usable ecosystem is the fastest way to fill those seats and achieve mass adoption.

Yet what does usability mean? The short answer is that usability is the quality of being intuitive and simple to use. However, when it comes to blockchain, this means a variety of things depending on what a person is using it for.

To address this, NEAR is implementing multiple features designed to address usability for both users and developers.

Developers

For a long time now, so-called ‘killer dApps’-- innovative decentralized applications that attract a wide user base– have been touted as an essential vehicle for mass adoption. Yet one of the key bottlenecks that is preventing the development of such a dApp is the complexity and relative obscurity of typical web3 coding languages like Solidity. This is because, requiring dApps to be coded in Solidity shuts out whole swathes of legacy developers and programmers who may otherwise be experimenting, programming, and innovating on web3.

To put this problem in perspective, imagine if iPhones only supported apps built on a language like Solidity. Whilst we may have seen some interesting apps come out, we would also have missed out on thousands of amazing applications built by other developers. Seeing as game-changing applications not only drive adoption, but also create whole ecosystems of their own, the exponential effects of bringing previously excluded developers into web3 are astronomical.

NEAR solves this problem by supporting two of the most popular languages in the history of coding– Rust and JavaScript. In doing so they open the doors to a far wider pool of developers and welcome them into the web3 ecosystem. Because of this, we are seeing a wide range of exciting new projects being built on NEAR, from radical new Game-Fi games from collectives such as the Human Guild, to usability-orientated mobile apps such as SweatCoin. In this way, usability not only drives growth by bringing in front-end users, it also expands the ecosystem by fostering new talent.

Users

At the other end of the usability problem, are the ‘users’ themselves, and the difficulty most of the population have when facing the complexity of blockchain.

It is almost a cliche now to imagine the blockchain enthusiast struggling to explain the technology to a bewildered audience. Indeed, despite web3’s growth, a key barrier to mass adoption is that much of the general population still sees web3 as a complex and volatile space filled with computer science geeks.

Of course, such a perception of an innovative new space is not without precedent. We only have to look back to the early days of the web to find the same attitudes.

Indeed, in as far as web3 is following the same trajectory towards the mainstream as the legacy internet, making blockchain platforms more readable and accessible is essential to achieving mass adoption. It may seem far off, but we need to imagine toddlers and the elderly using web3 with the same ease as they use web2 today. In this light, we see how far web3 platforms have to go.

Leading the way in addressing the usability problem, NEAR has introduced a series of features aimed at making the process of using its platform less opaque. Chief among these is their use of human-readable accounts, which replace the complex 64-character addresses used by other platforms.

Similarly, it also makes the process of authorizing transactions far less complicated through its use of an account-based model with hosted wallets. The logic behind this functionality is that newcomers to web3 can avoid the complex process of understanding public and private keys and setting up wallets, and instead immediately begin interacting and transacting online.

This kind of simplicity is exactly what is needed to make web3 more usable– and by extension more accessible– to new users. Whilst many seasoned users of web3 will want to avoid the security risks that such centralization entails, for most newcomers to the space, having a more accessible experience is more important.

Fortunately, NEAR satisfies both camps with its ‘progressive security’ model, in which users have the option to update the security of their account by creating a new key pair locally and updating the account to use such a key pair. In this way, NEAR aims to create a system whereby a user can transition from the highest usability and low security, to the highest security and low usability over time, as their involvement and investment in the blockchain increases.

Keeping NEAR Usable with a NEAR Smart-Contract Audit

Usability is undoubtedly an elephant in the room when it comes it the future of web3, another is security, and an ecosystem that provides solutions to both is set to make huge strides towards mass adoption.

That’s why it is essential that NEAR projects make use of a NEAR smart-contract audit before launching.

By implementing sophisticated, line-by-line analysis of a project’s code that uses both leading AI technology and computer science experts, CertiK’s NEAR smart-contract audit seeks out hard-to-spot vulnerabilities that even the most diligent developer may miss.

Rather than take a one-size fits all approach to auditing, CertiK’s NEAR smart-contract audit takes care to address the specific architecture, functionality, and use-cases for each project that it audits, and then provides clear steps on how to remediate any vulnerabilities or attack vectors discovered.

Through partnerships with numerous NEAR projects from across the ecosystem, CertiK’s NEAR smart-contract audit applies a rich understanding of the NEAR platform to each audit. In doing so it sets NEAR projects on the best possible footing to succeed and capitalize on the radical usability and scalability of the underlying technology.

Whilst a NEAR smart-contract audit is foundational to ensuring maximum security before launch, CertiK also offers powerful blockchain analytics tools, Skynet and SkyTrace, to help NEAR teams stay on top of their on-chain activity after launch. In doing so, CertiK provides NEAR projects with the best possible security posture to anticipate and respond to attacks.

In the push to continually develop better tools for web3 security, CertiK has also recently announced two new services: CertiK KYC and a Bug Bounty Programme.

CertiK KYC works in conjunction with the NEAR smart-contract audit to provide KYC verification for project teams. In doing so it addresses issues of accountability between project teams and their communities. Ultimately this works to foster trust and security, and strengthens user confidence to invest.

CertiK has also recently launched its bug bounty program, which enlists handpicked white-hat hackers to analyze a project’s code and seek out novel attack vectors and vulnerabilities. This, alongside the NEAR smart-contract audit, allows NEAR teams to have an unparalleled insight into the security of their smart contracts, and provides a firm foundation from which to achieve their ambitions.